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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)

The Great Western System

The Great Western System.

The Great Western was originally incorporated in 1835 for a railway from London to Bristol. By amalgamations and new construction the system gradually grew in extent, until, at the time of the introduction of grouping, it actually possessed the longest mileage of any Home line. Originally built to a gauge of seven feet, the Great Western incorporates such historic systems as the Bristol and Exeter, the South Wales, the West Midland, the South Devon, and the Cornwall Railways. The throughout conversion of the broad gauge tracks to the standard 4ft. 8 1/2in. gauge took place in May, 1892.

Practically the whole of Britain from London to Land's End is served by Great Western trains. The “Cornish Riviera Express” runs over the full length of the system, while other notable main-line services are those between London and South Wales, London and Birmingham, and London and Birkenhead. Known to tourists as the “Shakespeare route,” the Great Western also operates through expresses between London and Stratford-on-Avon. Headquarters of the system are at Paddington Station, London. This terminal has a greater total length of platforms than that of any other station in Britain, except Victoria (Southern Railway). They measure 15,939 feet, or nearly two and three-quarter miles. In addition, there are two platforms, used mainly for parcels business, which measure a further 1,511 feet. The three main departure platforms are each over 1,100 feet in length, while two arrival platforms each have a length of 1,200 feet.

A most interesting feature of operation on the Great Western line is the working of slip coaches on passenger trains. The Great Western is the only railway in Britain to employ this system to any extent, and the practice actually dates back to 1858. The advantage of the slip coach arrangement lies in the fact that it enables long-distance expresses to serve intermediate towns without the necessity for interrupting long non-stop runs. Also, it renders possible the detaching of coaches at junction points to form the nucleus of trains serving lines not traversed by the main train.

Coaches in the rear of Great Western trains are slipped in this manner:—The slip coach is equipped with a special coupling hook hinged on a pin and retained in its normal position by a sliding bar fitting over the point of the book. At the other end, the bar is connected to a lever in the slip-guard's compartment, situated in the front of the leading coach of the portion of the train to be detached. As the train approaches the point where slipping is to be undertaken, the slip-guard pulls the lever, removing the sliding bar from the point of the hinged hook and permitting it to fall and release the slip portion from the main train. The action of the lever causes the vacuum brakes to be partially applied on the slip portion, and speed is thus reduced. The main portion of the train speeds away on its journey, and the slip section is gradually brought to rest alongside the platform by the slip-guard operating his hand-brake.

There are at present twenty-two slip services in operation on the Great Western. Among these are two slip coaches detached daily off the “Cornish Riviera Express” at Westbury (for Weymouth), and at Taunton (for Minehead and Ilfracombe).